Monday, December 19, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

OUTFOXED by David Rosenfelt [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library new book, audio book [2016]

Description: The newest [book 14] in the Andy Carpenter series.  Andy is a criminal defense attorney and independently wealthy.  He prefers being “retired” and working with his charitable Tara Foundation, rescuing dogs.  But when someone he knows is charged with a crime, he takes the case.

Plot:  An inmate, Brian Atkins, works with the dogs of the Tara Foundation, training them to make them more adoptable.  One day he uses one of the dogs to escape from prison.  Shortly thereafter, the man whose testimony put him in prison is found murdered.  Andy tracks the dog and the police track Andy and arrest Brian, who swears he didn't do the killing.  Andy believes him and agrees to represent him.

Characterization:  Most of the characters are well-rounded and have individual personalities.  Even the dogs in the story have individual personalities. Andy is sarcastic and wise-cracking, which makes the books fun to read.

Setting:  Paterson New Jersey.  Reasonably well described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Grover Gardner and he definitely adds to the characterization of all of the characters.

Overall:  I enjoyed this newest addition to the Andy Carpenter series.

Grade: A-

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dog in hot car? In CA, break a window!

In California, the new "Right to Rescue" Act allows people to break into a car if an animal inside is in danger of overheating.  The person doing the breaking must first call the police, and remain with the car until the police arrive.

Friday, December 9, 2016

MOO by Sharon Creech [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library ebook [2016]

Description: Two children move from a big city, not named but reminded me of NYC, to rural Maine.  They experience culture shock, and meet new friends and a new neighbor with a heavy accent and a farm full of animals.

Plot:  Reena, age 12, and her younger brother Luke meet their new neighbor Mrs. Falala, and agree to help her take care of her animals including an ornery cow which Reena trains to show at a fair.

Characterization:  The main characters are well-rounded and have individual personalities.  Even the animals [especially the cow] have individual personalities.  The kids' relationship with the neighbor is very well done and funny.

Setting:  Rural Maine.  Reasonably well described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  Culture shock scenes are really funny.

Overall:  This is a cute middle grade book.  The ebook includes several fonts and creative formatting which made for a fast read.

Grade: B+

Monday, December 5, 2016

December 7 - National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which occurred December 7, 1941 and brought the US into World War II.

Here's the Wikipedia page

Here's the memorial website for this year's 75th anniversary commemoration

“On August 23, 1994, the United States Congress, by Pub.L. 103–308, designated December 7 of each year as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  On Pearl Harbor Day, the American flag should be flown at half-staff until sunset to honor those who died as a result of the attack on U.S. Military and naval forces in Hawaii.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

PUSHING UP DAISIES by MC Beaton [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, new books shelf, audio book [2016]

Description: This is #27 in the Agatha Raisin mystery series.  In this book, Agatha [a private detective] is hired by a murdered man's son to find the killer.

Plot:  Agatha is hired by a murdered man's son to find the killer.  Lots of suspects.  Rather convoluted investigation.

Characterization:  I know the characters so well from previous books that I can't really say they are, or are not, well-rounded.  The new characters in this book aren't really that developed though.

Setting:  England, Cotswalds.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Penelope Keith and she did a reasonably nice job.  One thing that really stood out to me, were the inconsistencies.  For example, Mrs. Bloxby's first name ends up being different than it was in previous books, and Charles is a different age than he is in previous books.  Apparently the author and even the publisher didn't do any fact-checking or review for consistency or whatever you call that.  I've seen this happen with other “major” authors who have written a lot of books in a series [Janet Evanovich comes to mind, with several inconsistencies in her later books].

Overall:  I forgot most of what happened in this book almost immediately after I finished reading it.  It was enjoyable while I read it, but nothing really stood out to me.

Grade: B-

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trees under arrest

In honor of the Christmas season, let's look at two trees which were sufficiently unfortunate as to get themselves arrested.

First, one arrested more than 100 years ago:

And now, one arrested a few months ago:

Have a merry Christmas season!

And try not to get yourself arrested.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving!

I want to wish all of my blog readers a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends.

And please remember - and thank - those who are celebrating Thanksgiving far away from their family and friends.

President Bush in Bagdad for Thanksgiving 2003

Soldiers in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving aboard ship in the Persian Gulf 2004

Thanksgiving aboard ship in the Arabian Sea 2012

Friday, November 18, 2016

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman [Book recommendation]

Translated from Swedish by Henning Koch
Book obtained from: Library audio book [2012]

Description: Ove [pronounced Oova or Uva] is a cranky old man who lives in a block of row houses.  He is rigid with his “rules”, and after his wife dies he just wants to be left alone.  New neighbors move in across from him and turn his life upside down.

Plot:  The book starts out slowly and there really isn't a burning question [like whodunnit or will the earth be destroyed] to pull the reader thru the book.  But little questions crop up every now and then, causing the reader to want to know the answers.  There is a main story line in the present, with the new neighbors and how they turn Ove's life upside down, and a flashback story line that let's the reader know how Ove got to be such a cranky old man. The book alternated between making me laugh out loud and causing me to get all teared up, sometimes within the space of less than five minutes.

Characterization:  Most of the characters are well-rounded and have individual personalities.  The cat isn't all that believable because it is portrayed more like a dog, but if you can get around that, it does add to the story.  It's also a little odd that random folks seem to want to be friends with Ove and ask him for favors, even tho he's not a friendly guy.  He's not evil, just not friendly.  Also, Ove is 59 years old, but acts more like he's at least 10 years older.  Maybe living where it snows so much adds years to a life?

Setting:  Sweden in fall/winter.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by George Newbern and he definitely added to the characterization of all of the characters.

Overall:  If you can get past the first 50 pages or so, the book is definitely worth the read.  It's a rare book that makes me laugh and cry in the same chapter.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 14, 2016

The worst kind of law

When I took my Bar Prep class to review for the Bar Exam [way back in the dark ages when dinosaurs roamed the Earth], the professor who taught the class said the worst kind of law was probate.  People, usually family members, fighting over a dead person's money.

I tend to agree with him.

A dachshund with the name Winnie the Pooh received a $100,000 inheritance from his owner when she passed away.  This money was to provide for his care and feeding during his lifetime.  Any remaining balance after he passed away would be donated to a charity.

Sounds a little extravagant, but nothing too oddball.

But apparently, the trustee in charge of reimbursing the dog's new caretaker enjoys having responsibility over $100,000 and is not forking over the money.  So the caretaker sued.

How hard is it to hand over money? Having never pampered a financially independent pup before, I may be missing something, but it seems to me that Hanlon collects receipts for dog food and whatever other odds and ends people give their mongrels and then the estate pays her. That’s just not that hard, is it?”

As the article so eloquently states:  “Just give her the money for her expenses as she incurs them. This is an astoundingly easy problem to fix.”

But apparently it has required a lawsuit to reach the inevitable resolution.  Some people are just way too greedy with other people's money.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day USA

Here's a list of links about Veterans Day and to show you where veterans [and for some of these links, also active duty] can receive free or discounted goods and services.  It's the least this country can do for those who serve and have served and are still serving.

To all my blog readers who are veterans or active duty - thank you for your service.

Veterans Day history

History of Veterans Day

Veterans Day 2016 presidential proclamation

Veterans Day parades 

Veterans Day freebies and discounts

Promotions and discounts

Free meals, discounts, sales, and deals

Free and discounted meals

Veterans and active duty military all year round

Freebies and discounts for deployed military and families 

Freebies and discounts all year round

Organizations that support deployed military and families 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Aggressive border patrol searches

A 54yo US citizen was visiting a friend in Mexico.  On returning to the US at the El Paso border crossing, a drug-sniffing dog “jumped on her”.  She was then “dragged away in hand-cuffs” to a medical facility for a six hour full body-cavity search, which included waiting for her to have a bowel movement, and multiple vaginal searches.

No drugs were found.

As if that wasn't humiliating enough, the medical facility billed her $5000 for the search.

If you're not outraged at this point, please check your pulse.

The medical facility has agreed to settle the case by paying the woman $1.1 million.  This seems reasonable to me.  And the “Department of Customs, Border Protection, and Rummaging Around in People’s Bowels” agreed to pay another $475,000.  Not sure whether I think this amount should have actually been more than the amount the medical facility paid.

I suspect it will be a long time before this woman agrees to visit her friend again.

Friday, November 4, 2016

HOUNDED by David Rosenfelt [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library audio book [2014]

Description: This is #12 in the Andy Carpenter mystery series [I've read this one and one other].  In this book, Andy's friend, police captain Pete Stanton, is accused of killing an informant who he has befriended.

Plot:  A police informant who Captain Stanton has befriended is killed, leaving his 8yo son and basset hound behind.  Pete calls Andy [defense attorney] and Laurie [investigator and former police officer, and Andy's girlfriend] to take custody of the boy and the dog so they don't end up “in the system”.  Andy prepares for Pete's defense while searching for the real killer.  The sub-plot with the drugs was somewhat odd and a little distracting.  It did figure into the main plot and was required for the resolution, but I'm not sure it was entirely believable.

Characterization:  Andy Carpenter is really sarcastic and funny.  The other characters have their own individual personalities and are well done.

Setting:  New Jersey.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Grover Gardner and he is awesome as narrator for this series.

Overall:  I figured out whodunnit at exactly the same time as Andy did, which was odd but satisfying in a way.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hack your resume

David Dworken graduated from high school on a Monday.  The following Friday, he was one of 1,410 people honored by the Department of Defense for successfully hacking into the Pentagon's computers.

“Dworken found six [bugs], but did not win any cash because he wasn’t the first to find any of the vulnerabilities that he reported.  But he still found it rewarding and he said he would 'absolutely' come back to try and hack the Pentagon again.”

This is definitely someone we want on OUR side of the war room.

“All told, the hackers found 138 ways that the department’s public websites allowed malicious attacks where personal information could be stolen, or where hackers could hijack the website to force it to post unauthorized content.”

Can you imagine this young man's resume?  I predict a very bright future.  Either that, or a long prison stint.

Friday, October 28, 2016

DEADER HOMES AND GARDENS by Joan Hess [book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library audio book [2012]

Description: This is #18 in the Claire Malloy mystery series [I've read this one and one other].  In this book, Claire has recently married and is searching for a new home.  She finds the perfect house, which of course is implicated in a murder.

Plot:  Claire falls in love with “the perfect house,” but while the real estate agent is showing it to her, the agent disappears.  Claire goes in search of the owner, and discovers the house is the subject of a family feud.  If she wants to buy the house, she'll have to solve the feud.

Characterization:  The characters are well-rounded and have individual personalities.  Claire and her daughter Caron are many times whiny, which is understandable for Caron since she's 17.  Not so much for Claire.

Setting:  Arkansas.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Rachael Warren and she did a nice job.

Overall:  I think this book went on a little too long.  Cutting 2-3 chapters would have been an improvement.  I did figure out whodunnit about half-way thru the book, and it did seem to drag thereafter.

Grade: B-

Monday, October 24, 2016

Judge's bizarre and disturbing behavior results in a new trial

Continuing on last week's topic of the bailiff protects the judge, there are some judges whose behavior must really frustrate their bailiffs.

For example, several years ago in one local court where I frequently had cases, one the judges would come down from the bench and walk around the courtroom.  Now this is relatively common for adoption cases and drug court "graduations", because the parties want a photo of themselves with the judge as they begin their new life.  But bailiffs in those courtrooms know what to expect.

It is absolutely not common for a judge in any other setting to leave the bench for an excursion around the courtroom while court is in session.

Here's a news article about a judge in Louisiana who wandered around the courtroom DURING A JURY TRIAL!  And that wasn't the worst of this judge's behavior.  He acted favorably toward the defense witnesses, and appeared bored with Plaintiff's witnesses.

“Judge Ellender’s insidious actions of leaving the bench, wandering around the courtroom, looking out the windows, eating candy and otherwise failing to pay attention to the proceedings communicated to the jury in a non-verbal way his opinion that the trial was not serious and could be treated as a joke....”

And apparently this was the THIRD time this judge was disciplined for this type of behavior.

The Louisiana Supreme Court rule that the plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial because the trial judge’s behavior created a miscarriage of justice.

Ya think??!

Friday, October 21, 2016

COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library e-book [2014]

Description: Willow Chance is a 12yo child genius, trying to make her way in the world.  When her adoptive parents die in a car crash, she is once again orphaned, with an uncertain future.

Plot:  Willow finished a state test in 17 minutes and achieved a perfect score, which everyone believed was because she cheated.  She is therefore sent to the school counselor, who isn't able to do much for her because of his own personal issues.  Later, her adoptive parents both die, and Willow is taken in by the single mother of a new friend.  Together, they keep one step ahead of social services and try to make a new life for all of them.

Characterization:  The characters are well developed for a middle grade novel, with individual personalities.

Setting:  Bakersfield California.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  This is a middle grade novel.  Very diverse.  I liked how each character was unique, which doesn't always happen, especially with middle grade books.

Overall:  This book has a literary feel, and despite the sad beginning, it is positive and uplifting.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 17, 2016

The court bailiff protects the judge

The court bailiff's job is to maintain order within a courtroom and protect judges, jurors, and other court personnel.  In California, most bailiffs are law enforcement personnel, typically from the Sheriff department.  Bailiffs formerly were a separate department called the Marshal, but several years ago the Marshal merged into the Sheriff department.

A while back, I was in court one day, watching another trial while waiting for my own case to be called.  In the middle of the testimony of that trial, the bailiff interrupted and said “Your Honor, I need you to leave the bench.”

Without any further comment or explanation, the judge immediately rose and left the bench, disappearing through a side door.  I've never seen a judge move that fast.  He was out of the courtroom within five seconds of that request.

The attorney in trial, his witness, and the other party, all stood there at counsel table with confused looks on their faces.  They were in the middle of trial!

The bailiff who'd made that announcement hustled out through the main courtroom door at the back.  The court clerk migrated toward the exit doors near the front of the courtroom.  Those of us more-experienced attorneys motioned to our clients and we started moving toward the court clerk.

This particular courtroom was the closest courtroom to the courthouse entrance and must have been a short-cut because several seconds later, about 8-10 bailiffs erupted into the courtroom through the front doors, almost knocking down those of us who'd congregated there, and ran out the main door.

About five minutes later, our bailiff returned and announced “the situation is under control”.  The judge returned and the trial resumed.

I learned later that someone had made a scene while entering the courthouse through the weapon screening station, and the security staff had deemed it a sufficient threat that they called for back-up.

Eviction cases can cause heated emotions.  If there is no bailiff in the courtroom to protect the judge, in most instances the judge cannot be on the bench.

Friday, October 14, 2016

MURDER AS A SECOND LANGUAGE by Joan Hess [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library audio book [2013]

Description: This is #19 in the Claire Malloy mystery series.  In this book, Claire decides to volunteer as a tutor at the literacy center, helping adults who are learning English.  Unfortunately, one of the more abrasive students is killed.

Plot:  Claire tries to sign up as a tutor for adults learning English, but misses the mandatory training meeting.  Instead, she's conscripted to serve on the board of directors, where she learns of some questionable activities regarding the Literacy Center, and stumbles upon a murder.  I didn't figure out whodunnit until almost the very end of the book.

Characterization:  The characters are well-rounded and have individual personalities.  Claire can be a little whiny.  Her daughter Caron, a high school senior, is really obnoxious and if she was my daughter, I would definitely have a problem co-existing with her.

Setting:  Arkansas.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Meredith Mitchell and she did a nice job.

Overall:  This is the first book of this series that I have read.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 10, 2016

When life imitates the movies

Have you seen the movie Hopscotch with the late, great Walter Matthau?  It's my favorite movie, and I watch it at least once per year.

This news story is an eerily similar scene from Hopscotch come to life.

Back in 2014 in Idaho, a tenant gave the police permission to search for her ex-boyfriend in the house she rented.  She even gave them her keys.

Police allegedly spent about 10 hours shooting tear gas into the home, smashing windows, and doing other stuff they’ve probably seen TV cops do.

Eventually, after enough time had passed that the police were reasonably sure no one was inside, they did enter the house.

“The dog they found in a back bedroom was arrested without incident.”  No mention of the charges.

I can certainly understand the police hesitation to just go in to the house through the front door with the key, especially knowing the person they were seeking was suspected of stealing guns, and especially in today's climate of police shootings.  But ten hours?  Now if the person holed up inside the house was threatening to kill hostages or something, maybe that would have been justified.

But it took the police ten hours to learn the only one inside was a dog.

The tenant, formerly cooperative with the police, surely regretted her cooperation.  She and her children lost all of their personal possessions, and were unable to live in their home for the following two months.  She's filed a lawsuit demanding $350,000 for this incident, which does seem excessive given that (1) she didn't own the house, and (2) she wasn't inside at the time.

Go watch the movie Hopscotch.  When you get to the scene I've mentioned here [and you'll definitely know it when you see it], have a good laugh.  It's a great movie.

Friday, October 7, 2016

UNLEASHED by David Rosenfelt [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library audio book [2014]

Description: Defense attorney Andy Carpenter's accountant Sam receives a call from a high school friend Barry, who needs help.  Sam is delayed in getting to his friend's house, and Barry leaves on a private plane without him.  The plane crashes, Barry's wife is accused of murdering him, and Andy takes the case.

Plot:  Andy defends Barry's wife.  Things don't look so good, but a twist takes the case in a new direction.  There is a sub-plot that becomes related to the main plot later in the story.  The sub-plot was a little distracting at first, because listening on audio didn't give me any visual clues that a new chapter was addressing the sub-plot.  At first the two plots seem unrelated and when a sub-plot chapter began, it took me a few seconds to realize it was the sub-plot.

Characterization:  Andy Carpenter is wise-cracking and really funny.  I think I laughed at least 2-3 times in each chapter.  He has a very dry sense of humor.  The other characters all have individual personalities and add quite a bit to the story.

Setting:  New Jersey.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Grover Gardner and he definitely added to Andy's characterization.  Great narrator!

Overall:  This is the eleventh book in this series.  All have a dog in them.  Even the dogs have individual, well-developed personalities.

Grade: A-

Monday, October 3, 2016

Read those "Terms of Service" agreements!

As an attorney, I am forever advising people [and not just my clients] that they need to read every document before signing it.  Most folks agree that's the smart thing to do.  But do they always comply?

I think not.

It would take the average user 40 minutes a day to read all of - and that's every day - to read all of the privacy and terms of service policies that we encounter related to the different services that we're using all the time.”

A study out of the University of Connecticut asked volunteers to sign up for a new social networking site called Name Drop.  Buried within the lengthy Terms of Service was a clause that all information collected on the site would be shared with the National Security Agency [NSA].  Also included was a term that payment would include the user's firstborn child.

Only one person out of 500 volunteers objected to sharing his information with the NSA.  And 98% didn't even notice the firstborn clause.

The Name Drop social networking site wasn't real, and maybe the volunteers knew that, but I suspect those volunteers did was most of us do all the time.  Without reading the lengthy Terms of Service, we just blindly click on “I agree”.

Be careful what you sign, whether it's a hard-copy signature, an electronic signature, or otherwise.

Friday, September 30, 2016

SKELLIG by David Almond [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library e-book [2000]

Description:  This is a middle-grade book.  Michael is 10 years old.  His family just moved into a dilapidated house that they want to restore.  His baby sister is very ill and in the hospital.  He sneaks into the abandoned garage and finds an alien.

Plot:  Michael finds an alien trying to survive in his dilapidated garage.  The only person he trusts with this information is his neighbor Mina.  Together they try to keep the alien from dying, while Michael's baby sister is in the hospital.

Characterization:  Michael and Mina and the alien [Skellig] are somewhat developed.  Would have liked to see a bit more of it tho.

Setting:  Not sure.  Semi-rural, with dilapidated houses, owls and other wildlife.

Other:  This book has a literary feel and tone.  Somewhat dark/gothic.

Overall:  I enjoyed this story but I would have liked it to have more character development.  Maybe because it's a middle grade book?

Grade: B

Monday, September 26, 2016

Can a language be copyrighted?

Paramount Pictures is suing the makers of a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film, saying that the filmmakers are infringing Paramount’s copyright in the franchise. Axanar Productions apparently responded by asking Paramount to clarify exactly which elements it claimed were copyrighted, and it responded with a long list that included the Klingon language.”
I don't practice in the area of copyright law, but this is an interesting lawsuit that I will be following.  Can a made-up language be copyrighted to the extent that others can't use it in their own creative endeavors?

“As you would expect, the brief also includes various statements in Klingon (both in the Klingon alphabet and Latin transliteration), with explanatory footnotes in case the court doesn’t have a qualified translator. Although it’s in L.A., so it’s entirely possible it does.”

This quote jumped out at me.  I practice in Southern California, including Los Angeles.  According to the Los Angeles Superior Court website, the most common languages in Los Angeles county are American Sign Language, Armenian, Chinese [Mandarin and Cantonese], Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.  The
court provides interpreters for any language, not just these listed, at no charge for most cases.
I've personally been in court with interpreters for all of those languages [not all at the same time], and some that aren't listed.  Several months ago an eviction Defendant required interpretation in Eritrean, which I learned is the language of Ethiopia.

So yes, if you're in court in Los Angeles county, the court most likely has an interpreter for you, no matter what language you speak.  Possibly even Klingon, altho I suspect those who speak Klingon also speak another language well enough to use the services of the interpreter for that other language.

Friday, September 23, 2016

LENDING A PAW by Laurie Cass [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library e-book [2013]

Description: Minerva “Minnie” Hamilton and Eddie, the cat that followed her home one day and wouldn't leave, drive a bookmobile and solve a murder.

Plot:  Eddie sneaks aboard the bookmobile on its first day of service, delighting the patrons.  At their last stop of the day, he leads Minnie to a body.  Unfortunately, Minnie knows the victim, and it appears many of her friends are suspected of killing him.  So Minnie “helps” investigate the crime.

Characterization:  The characters could have been more developed.  I had a sense of who they were, but none of the “jumped out at me”, except for Eddie who was cute and funny and well-done.  Sometimes I lost track of who was who, but oddly it didn't seem to matter much.  I still enjoyed the story.

Setting:  Southwestern Michigan.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The main character pondered the clues so much, and gave their specific significance, that there were none that the reader could miss.

Overall:  This was a cute cozy mystery, very good for readers who don't really want to think too much, they just want a cute story with a well-stated conclusion.

Grade: B

Monday, September 19, 2016

One man's trash is another man's ... evidence

In California v Greenwood, 486 US 35 (1988), the US Supreme Court ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, once a person puts his trash at curbside for collection [which in that case included evidence of drug use and trafficking], no warrant is necessary to search that trash because the person leaving it has no reasonable expectation of privacy in it.

This is the federal interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. Individual states are always free to enact laws that give greater protections to their citizens.

The Supreme Court of Washington has ruled that a provision in its own state constitution does extend privacy protections to its citizens beyond the federal guarantee.  In Washington, the police need a warrant to snoop through your trash.

Therefore, in some states you have an expectation of privacy in your garbage, and in other states [and/or on federal land], you don't.

Unfortunately, unless your neighbors are police officers or similar, neither of these philosophies can protect your trash from neighborhood busy-bodies and snoops.

Friday, September 16, 2016

NYPD RED 4 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description: This is book #4 in this series by James Patterson and Marshall Karp.  This specialized unit of the NYPD is an elite task force which investigates cases involving the rich and famous.

Plot:  A famous actress is murdered at her movie premiere.  Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald, the NYPD Red team, must find the killer, without upsetting other famous people or NY politicians in the process.  There are several subplots, including a series of thefts at hospitals which must be solved but also kept “quiet” and the personal lives of the two main characters, all of which are interesting in their own right.

Characterization: All the characters are reasonably well-developed, and they were portrayed as real people with real personalities.  The point of view switches between the main characters and is done well.

Setting:  New York City.  Nicely described.

Other:  This book was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini and he did an excellent job, definitely added to the characterization and the story.

Overall:  Good story.  Sub-plots were interesting and I thought they added to the story.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 12, 2016

Texting while walking can be lucrative

Imagine this scenario:

In February 2011, in the great state of Georgia, you park your car behind a bucket truck surrounded by orange cones.

You duck under the extended arm of the truck, walk to an ATM machine, realize you forgot something, and duck under the arm again as you walk back to your car.  You retrieve the forgotten item, again duck under the arm and walk back to the ATM machine, transact your business, and head back to your car.

While you return to your car, you are engrossed in a text conversation and don't notice (1) the ladder/arm you've ducked under three times so far, and (2) that the bucket at the end of the arm has been lowered closer to the sidewalk.

You bonk your head on the ladder/arm, which results in a trip to the hospital and a slight concussion.

You do the American thing,  You sue the construction company.

In March 2016 [wow that case took a long time to get to verdict, five whole years!], a Georgia jury determines you were only 8% at fault, and awards $175,000.  Your take, after reducing the award by 8%, is $161,000.

Our take-away lesson:  texting while driving may be frowned upon [and illegal in many jurisdictions], but texting while walking can be very lucrative, albeit somewhat painful.

Friday, September 9, 2016

THE CROSSING by Michael Connelly [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description: Author Michael Connelly has both of his main characters, Harry Bosch [LAPD detective] and Mickey Haller [criminal defense attorney], together in this book.  Most of the chapters are in Bosch's POV but some are in the POV of the “bad guys”.  The book starts with the bad guys so the reader knows up front who they are.

Plot:  Bosch has retired from the LAPD.  His half-brother, Mickey Haller, asks for Bosch's help with investigating a case for his client, a former gang member who has gone straight but is charged with the particularly brutal murder of an assistant city manager.  As Bosch gets closer to the truth, the bad guys go after him.

Characterization:  There really isn't much character development in this book, possibly because these characters are reasonably well-known to most readers.  But if I hadn't read any of the previous books, the characters would have felt kind of flat to me.  The personal story line had a good start, but really didn't go anywhere.

Setting:  Los Angeles.  Nicely described.

Other:  This is a very good police procedural, even tho Bosch is no longer an active police detective.  The story details his thought processes in the investigation.  Michael Connelly is also VERY GOOD at dramatizing an attorney cross-examining a witness at trial.  There are two places where this occurs, one at the beginning and one at the end.  Both excellent.

Overall:  I really enjoyed this story, probably because I know these characters from previous books, and I am an attorney who frequently works in Los Angeles.  For new readers tho, there wasn't enough character development.  The book is narrated by Titus Welliver who also plays Bosch in the new series from Amazon Studios.

Grade: A-

Friday, August 26, 2016

Happy end of summer / vacation / beginning of school year

I am on vacation through September 6.

I hope all of my blog readers have a great end of summer [or winter for those of you at the bottom of the Earth] and/or a great beginning of the school year, or whatever you are celebrating at this time of year.

Please tell me in the comments what you did for your vacation in 2016.

See you in September!


Monday, August 22, 2016

First world problems

A small farmhouse in central Kansas, occupied by tenants, was a hotbed of a digital age horror story.

"... the little house in the center of the country became the crossroads of the Internet, with unimaginable consequences ..."

The first hint occurred in 2011 when the home's owner received a call from a small business owner in Connecticut who angrily blamed her for his customers' email problems.

In May 2011, law enforcement officers knocked on the door, looking for a stolen truck.

Over the next five years, officers would show up to rescue potential suicidal persons, or accusing the tenants of harboring runaway children or keeping girls in the house to make pornographic films.  FBI agents, federal marshals, and IRS collectors have all appeared on their doorstep. So have angry Internet users.

At least once, hackers posted the tenants' names and personal details across the Internet.

One day, a broken toilet was left in the driveway without explanation.

Neither the tenants nor the owner had any idea what was happening.

What actually happened -- in 2002, a company called MaxMind was founded to map IP addresses. Many could not be directly linked to a physical address, only a state or sometimes only a country.

Many times, MaxMind could only determine that an IP address was in the U.S.  In those cases, the company mapped that address to 38°N 97°W, the rounded-off coordinates of the geographic center of the U.S.

Which just happens to be the front yard of the small farmhouse in Kansas.

More than 600 million IP addresses were mapped to that yard.

After this "problem" was discovered, MaxMind shifted its default United States location to the center of a lake, west of Wichita Kansas.

That wasn't quite enough for the tenants, though, who filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, plus their costs.

I wish them much success in that lawsuit.
Digital age horror story

Friday, August 19, 2016

IN THE CLEARING by Robert Dugoni [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description: Detective Tracy Crosswhite helps a friend investigate the suspicious suicide of a high school senior 40 years ago.

Plot:  Tracy investigates the alleged suicide of a Native American girl.  The book has chapters in the present day, and occasionally a chapter set 40 years ago when the incident occurred.  The townspeople seemed to accept that this girl killed herself, and didn't want someone stirring the waters 40 years later, because they were unwilling to learn the truth.

Characterization: All the characters are reasonably well-developed.  At about the 3/4 mark, there was a scene where I didn't remember who someone was, and it took several paragraphs before I remembered.  Otherwise I was able to keep everyone differentiated.

Setting:  Klickitat County, Washington.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The author did a little too much telling and exposition, explaining things instead of dramatizing them.  The book was narrated by Emily Sutton-Smith and she did a very nice job.

Overall:  The book switched to 1976 and back to 2016 easily.  Interesting story.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 15, 2016

What happens if you don't pay your court-imposed fine?

For misdemeanors, violations of local ordinances, and civil infractions, usually the defendant is ordered to pay a fee or fine instead of going to jail.  If the person cannot afford to pay the fine, many times it is converted to community service or another option.

In some cities and counties, the failure to pay fees and/or fines is punished [the fees/fines are "enforced"] by sentencing the offender to serve some jail time.

The US Department of Justice recently sent a "dear colleague" letter, indicating that the practice of converting unpaid fees and fines into jail time may run afoul of "basic constitutional principles".  Individuals required to serve that jail time may "confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.”

The letter outlined “basic constitutional principles” regarding fee and fine enforcement, including:

1) Don't put a person in jail for nonpayment without first determining whether the person is indigent and whether the failure to pay is willful.

2) Consider alternatives to jail for indigent defendants unable to pay, including community service, classes, reducing the amount owed, or extending the time for payment.

3) Do not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fees and fines.

4) Do not use practices that keep indigent defendants in jail because they can’t afford to pay for their release.

In my local jurisdiction, I've seen judges implement all of the above practices, giving defendants lots of chances to pay rather than sending a person to jail.  Sometimes, however, I've actually seen defendants voluntarily request jail time, because either they are already going to jail on another issue, or it's easier for them to spend a few days in jail rather than come up with the money.

Bottom line:  if you can't afford to pay your fine, ask the court for alternatives.  Don't just decide not to pay.  Because if that's what you do, you might end up in jail.

Friday, August 12, 2016

EL DEAFO by Cece Bell [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, e-book

Description:  This is a middle grade memoir in graphic novel format.  The author, Cece, lost her hearing at age 4 from meningitis.  The book describes her efforts to fit in and find friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid.

Plot:  At age 4, Cece has meningitis and loses her hearing.  In kindergarten, she attends a school where all the students have hearing loss.  Then in first grade, she is mainstreamed into a regular school where she reads lips and uses a bulky but effective hearing aid.  She tries to keep up with her studies and make friends.

Characterization: All the characters are drawn as rabbits, which made me think of the series Arthur by Marc Brown.  Arthur is an aardvark, but these rabbits were similar.  I was somewhat disappointed in that the characters weren't as developed as I would have preferred.  I'm not sure whether this is a function of the graphic novel format or not, because this is the only graphic novel I've read.  But I did think the plot moved a bit too fast, it didn't give much time for development.

Setting:  Roanoke Virginia.  Not much description in the text, but it is a graphic novel, so scenes were drawn.

Other:  Newbery Honor Book.  Gives kids an insight into the thoughts of other children who are living with a disability.

Overall:  I enjoyed this story, even tho I'm not the intended demographic.

Grade: B

Monday, August 8, 2016

Is an alligator a deadly weapon?

As we know from recent news and common sense, an alligator is a deadly animal.
Last October 2015 in Orlando Florida, a young man named Joshua James stopped outside the drive-up window at a Wendy's fast-food restaurant and threw a 3-1/2 foot long alligator through the window. 

He faces three charges related to the incident: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; unlawful sale, possession or transporting of an alligator; and petty theft.

Taking those charges in reverse order:

(1) petty theft -- Mr. James [took leave of his senses and] allegedly picked up the alligator at the side of the road.  Alligators are an endangered species, [despite the fact there are over one million alligators in Florida alone].  I'm not sure of the exact requirements under Florida law to be guilty of petty theft, but I do know it must require (a) a theft, and (b) less than a specified dollar amount.  Presumably this must include proving the alligator was the personal property of someone other than Mr. James, and it was worth less than the Florida dollar amount for a grand theft.

(2) Unlawful sale, possession or transporting of an alligator -- Mr. James possessed and transported the alligator in his car, which was presumably unlawful because it was not his alligator and/or it is an endangered species.

(3) Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon -- the main question presented: is a 3-1/2 foot alligator a deadly weapon?

This site gives a very good analysis of this question under Florida law.  And, as all good legal analyses conclude, the answer is – drumroll – it depends.

It depends on the alligator.

I definitely encourage all of my blog readers to read the full analysis in that link, because it is (1) thorough, and (2) funny, but if you just want the final PROBABLE answer –


Because Joshua James was able to collect the alligator from the side of the road without injury, transport it in his car without injury, and throw it into the drive-up window without injury, it is likely that this particular alligator will not be considered a deadly weapon, at least under Florida law.  Therefore, it is likely he will be found guilty of a misdemeanor (the other two charges), but not a felony.

But, a larger and/or more aggressive alligator would have resulted in a different conclusion.

And presumably also a different end result for the health of Mr. James.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn by Ace Atkins [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description:  The previous year, a fire at a boarded-up Catholic church killed three firefighters.  Now, at the one-year anniversary, a surviving firefighter not satisfied with the official conclusion asks Boston PI Spenser to investigate.

Plot:  Spenser investigates the church fire at the same time as a series of arson fires plagues the city.  As Spenser gets closer to the truth, the arson fires increase in number and intensity.  The author includes several chapters in the villain's POV, so the reader knows the answer, but it is still interesting to learn how Spenser figures it out.

Characterization:  This appears to be a book written by an author using the characters and setting created by an original author who is now deceased.  Amazon indicates it is book 44 in the series.  There were a few places where characters were not well-developed, like the author expected the reader to know who these people were because they had read previous books.  I haven't read any previous books in this series, so in those places it took a few pages before I figured out what was going on.  Readers who have read the original author's books will presumably know these characters from the previous books.

Setting:  Boston.  Nicely described.

Other:  There was quite a bit of foul language in this book, some of which I don't believe was necessary to the story.  The book was narrated by Joe Mantegna and he was really good.

Overall:  Good story.  It's always interesting when the reader knows who the “bad guys” are, to learn how the main character figures it out.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 1, 2016

Who owns the moon?

According to Article II of the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (thankfully known as simply the “Outer Space Treaty”): 
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

Of course, this treaty only binds those countries who have signed it.  And it appears to bind only nations and countries, not individuals.

Several of those enterprising individuals sell “deeds” to property on the moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Io (one of the moons of Jupiter).  A single acre on any of these “properties” costs about $20.

As  anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a “good deal to buy the Brooklyn bridge” knows, a person can't sell something unless he owns it.  And he can't own something unless he obtained it from someone who owned it before him, either by purchase or by other means, including conquest.

But a person can't simply file a document and claim ownership.

How does that explain the proliferation of websites purporting to sell outer-space real estate?

So, yes, you can intend to own the moon, you can even “buy” land on the moon and receive a deed in the mail to commemorate your purchase. But it does not mean the deed is worth anything other than the paper it’s written on—or that you, as holder of the deed, actually own a piece of the moon. You don’t. After all, written in small print on each of the Lunar Embassy deeds is a copyright and the notation “Novel Gift.”

Friday, July 29, 2016

THE STEEL KISS by Jeffery Deaver [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description: This is book #13 in the Lincoln Rhyme series.  Rhyme is a quadriplegic forensic criminalist.  He works with Amelia Sachs, a NYPD detective.  In this book, he is retired and working on a civil case.  He discovers his civil case is related to the criminal case currently being investigated by Sachs.

Plot:  An escalator malfunctions, causing a death.  Rhyme works with the attorney hired by the victim's family, to build a case against the escalator manufacturer and others.  Meanwhile, Sachs is trying to discover the identity of a brilliant serial killer who uses common everyday objects as murder weapons.  Rhyme and Sachs learn the same person is responsible for both cases.  Quite a few plot twists. Several sub-plots, at least one of which really didn't add much to the story.

Characterization: All the characters are reasonably well-developed, altho this is the 13th book in the series so they aren't as fully developed as they could have been.  Most readers will know these characters from previous books.

Setting:  New York City.  Nicely described.

Other:  This author is really good at taking current events and headlines and turning them into excellent stories.  This book was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini and he did an excellent job, definitely added to the characterization and the story.

Overall:  Good story.  I thought one of the plot twists was a bit too unrealistic and seemed like a cheat.  If the author had given at least one well-concealed hint of this possibility earlier in the story, it wouldn't have come over so much as a cheat.  Also, it seemed there was one too many sub-plots.

Grade: B+

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sometimes jury duty isn't so bad

Back in January 2016, a jury returned a verdict against yoga guru Bikram Choudhury [his yoga routine consists of a series of 26 poses, done over 90 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees] for sexually harassing a woman.  I love how this legal reporter describes the verdict:

On Monday, a jury awarded his former legal advisor, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, $924,500 in compensatory damages, and it added another $6,471,000 in punitive damages yesterday. Now, it is possible to both (1) believe that his alleged conduct was utterly appalling and (2) raise an eyebrow at awarding somebody a million bucks for it, and I know this because I am doing both of those things right at this moment. It is also possible to both (1) believe that the punitive award is also too high (it’s seven times the damages) and (2) not care because why does this creep have money to begin with? And both of those are also happening. But that gets us to the jury-amusement part of the trial, which came about after Choudhury insisted that in fact, he has no money. Which the jury found to be a real hoot.

In fact, I laughed throughout the article, which I encourage you to read here.

Which comes to the point of this blog post –

“There was some juror smirking and chortling during the cross”

“This escalated to outright laughter during the redirect”

This sounds like a jury duty assignment that people may not want so desperately to get out of.  But from an attorney perspective, when the jury is laughing at your client, you know the trial isn't going in your favor.....

Friday, July 22, 2016

GONE AGAIN by James Grippando [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, audio book

Description: This is book #12 in the Jack Swyteck series.  Jack is a criminal defense attorney in Miami Florida.  In this book, he is working with the Freedom Institute, representing a death row inmate who insists he is not guilty of killing the victim.

Plot:  Sashi Burgette, the 17yo victim, disappears on her way to school.  Her body is never found.  The next day, Dylan Reeves is found with her underwear in his car.  He is convicted and sentenced to death.  With his execution only days away, Sashi's mother contacts Jack Swyteck and tells him “Sashi called me.”  The book details Jack's attempts at getting Dylan off death row.

Characterization: Dylan Reeves is very well developed and realistic.  The victim's parents and siblings are well done.  Jack isn't quite as well done as the others, but I was still able to get a good feel for who he was as a person.  One thing that was really well done, is the “bad people” [term used to avoid spoilers] had reasonable and understandable motivations for their actions, they were not stereotypes.  The resolution of the story was very believable, and the reader was left with the question of whether sometimes a killer really may have been justified.

Setting:  Miami and other locations in Florida.  Nicely described.

Other:  This story reminded me so much of my days as a law clerk in the county Public Defender's office.  The dedication of the defense attorney and his team is well-done, even defending people who most of society wouldn't care about.  Dylan Reeves isn't a saint by any means, but Jack treated him with respect, and fought for the proposition that if he didn't kill Sashi, the death penalty would not be appropriate.  The book was narrated by Jonathan Davis and his voice was well-suited to the characters and the tone.

Overall:  An excellent story.  Realistic.  Gave the reader something to think about – murder is sometimes not easily categorized, and people who do bad things are real people and not just “bad”.  I really liked the way it left the question open – is a killing sometimes justified?

Grade: A